In Your Corner: A Month of Romance (part 2)

Seamless pattern of Valentines Day candy. Fancy chocolate bonbons with love you message.

Let’s simply pick up where I left off in my last post, with the question:

Who writes romance?

The second question we have to grapple with when it comes to romance relates to authorship. As with readership (and our previous conversation on that), there are many misconceptions about who writes within this particular genre. And first, to deal with the elephant in the room: Yes, the Romance Writers of America recently went through a major reckoning with some internal racism that the organization really shouldn’t have been silent on, ever. I won’t say much more about it (but if you’re unfamiliar, you can read up on it in almost any major news publication, including the Guardian) other than to congratulate those who were willing to speak up and who have helped the organization evolve. What’s relevant here is that the Romance genre has history–and a lot of it, both good and bad and misunderstood. Outside perspectives have been almost as important to the Romance market as inside ones, with many of the 1800s and early 1900s Great Thinking Men dismissing the earliest English language novels (which were often romances, as is the case with Jane Austen’s) as frivolous and like as not to rot the reader’s brain and foul the author’s character. But of course, Jane was writing in a time of near-continuous war, and the other novels of the period were either examples of pure escapism or ponderous tomes that passed government censors. 

Because so many of Romance’s greatest (as in, most anthologized) authors have been women, and English-speaking white women at that, it would be easy to assume (and many go right ahead and do assume) that Romance is the province of female authors and female authors only. Here again, the Romance Writers of America comes in very handy; their website provides some useful reportage on the state of Romance past and present. On a page they title “Romance Trailblazers,” one can find plenty of English-speaking white women authors, yes, but there are also a good sprinkling of authors who are none of these things, or at the very least not simultaneously. (On that note, don’t overlook RWA’s diversity and inclusion resources, which include this fabulous crowd-sourced list.) I would also point you to the diversity reports from The Ripped Bodice, the only exclusively-Romance-selling genre bookstore in the United States. The 2019 bestsellers reflect exactly the kind of diversity that has made the genre so popular and given it such staying power; it may not always be beloved of the critics, but Romance has never lacked for love among the people. The Ripped Bodice reports also lay bare some interesting facts about the main publishing houses and their romance imprints, which simply don’t reflect their diverse readership fully in the authors they publish. There are some opportunities for nonwhite authors opening up, but we still don’t see anything like a realistic reflection of reader demographics there. This also holds true if we’re looking at percentages relating to LGBTQIA+ authors, who are vastly underrepresented within the major publishing houses. Meanwhile, male authors have had a foothold in Romance writing all along, with authors like Nicholas Sparks and John Green representing some of the latest success stories.

Luckily, we’re in the business of self-publishing, and in self-publishing, there are fewer obstacles (I won’t say “no obstacles whatsoever,” since I can’t speak for each and every situation) to Romance authors than there are in making it through the Big Five. But I can say it time and time again until I run entirely out of breath: self-publishing is a democratizing influence on the market. Since anyone can self-publish, readers are shifting away from finding their books exclusively in the turning racks at local bookstores and in end-caps at the grocery store–and they’re turning to fanfiction sites like Archive of Our Own and to services like Wattpad. They’re also turning to subscription services like Kindle Unlimited and to individually sold (and well-reviewed) ebooks. The pandemic has seen that shift become something of an avalanche, with many readers unable to venture out and many brick and mortar bookstores shut completely or open only for curbside deliveries. 

The only downside of this shift is that there is no standardized reporting on ebooks. Since ebooks don’t even technically require an ISBN for distribution (this depends entirely on platform), there’s no way to track how many Romance ebooks there are out there in the world, much less report on who’s writing and reading them. And if we expand our notion of ebooks to include completed stories on web-based platforms, the numbers get even muddier. The best that can be done are “best-of” lists and compilations by reviewers and Romance influencers who have sampled widely–but even these lists aren’t representative of anything other than that one person’s taste or that one platform’s sales data. So while we can point to countless authors who both fill and subvert the standard profile of a white English-speaking woman author, we can’t point to any comprehensive reports. And we certainly shouldn’t take Amazon’s word on its own sales without a sizable grain of salt; any for-profit company, especially one with carefully coded algorithms to boost sales of particular authors who fit particular profiles, has its own best interests in mind, not the general public’s.

So if we can’t definitively answer our own question, what can we depend on when it comes to authorship in the Romance genre?

  1. Currently, the numbers that can be gathered about the Romance genre indicate that a majority of both authors and readers are women, that a majority of both authors and readers are white, and that a majority of both authors and readers seem to be getting their Romance novels in English. 
  2. The numbers that can be gathered and compiled into comprehensive reports either come from the Big Five traditional publishing houses or from for-profit companies like Amazon and Barnes & Nobles, and these industry stalwarts are largely responsible for the lack of diversity in which authors they choose to let in the gates they keep.
  3. A lot of work remains to be done to bring traditional publishing in line with its readership if it wants to take full advantage of a new generation of digitally savvy and diverse readers.
  4. Self-publishing in the Romance genre is, from all that I’ve heard, doing juuuuust fine. And by that, I mean it may just be the top-selling genre of fiction among self-publishing companies and free platforms. (And those fan sites? They’re, like, 90% romantic takes on movies, shows, and books that don’t quite go there on screen or the page. And a lot of those takes are … well. Check the tags on each story before diving in, since many of them fit the Romance genre’s alternate description: bodice-rippers.) Readers are hungry for self-published romance titles. And they’re hungry for diverse titles, whether we’re talking about gender or racial parity among authors, or representation of LGBT+ and other marginalized groups in content. Since the Big Five aren’t anywhere close to providing good numbers of any of these authors and actions, self-publishing has picked up the slack.

With all this said, a more useful alteration to the original question would be:

Is there room in the Romance genre for me?

And the answer is, of course, yes. YES. There is definitely room for your personal voice and take on Romance, and there is a readership eager and ready to read what you write.

As for what to write, we’ll start to tackle that in my next post. Watch this space!

You are not alone. ♣︎

Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.
Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner: A Month of Romance (part 1)

 

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This being Romance Awareness Month, I thought this would be a great time to tackle the genre here on the blog .We have never done a deep dive into romance before, which I find somewhat surprising, given the number of romance authors I have worked with over the years. So today, we’ll be breaking new ground as I start a new series following the publishing and marketing processes behind releasing a romance novel into the world.

(If you do not write romance, never fear! Many of the steps through which a romance novel must go are the same or quite similar to the steps through which books of other genres must go as well. You’ll simply need to apply your own lens to the information in order to apply it to your work.)

Today I want to ask two very important questions we all have ready-made answers to, but which I think we must revisit to discover what’s really going on.

Who is romance for?

In 2016, Nielsen compiled its research on genre readership into one very handy infographic: “Romance Readers by the Numbers.” While I’m including the infographic here, I absolutely encourage you to read Nielsen’s entire report! It’s full of fantastic information that totally re-oriented my perspective on romance readership.

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At its base level, many of your assumptions are true––of a majority. But I think it’s taking a closer look at those minorities, because if you consider that more than one in four fiction books on the market in 2015 was a romance, and that 16% of the readers reading those books are not female, that still leaves you quite an important market share––compared to, say dystopic science fiction. Nielsen hasn’t updated these numbers in a few years, but if the percentages hold true, that could equate to around 32 million reported units being read by men. Sure, women might be reading five times that many books, but 32 million is not an insignificant number if you’re smart in how you promote your book.

The same holds true, of course, for other minorities! Consider that more readers are not white than are not female, percentage-wise––up to 38 million readers of color relative to the (admittedly rough) 32 million calculation for male readers. And while the Nielsen infographic doesn’t have room to show it, LGBT romance ebook sales are on a sharp rise now that its authors have moved from fanfiction websites into the main stream of publishing and self-publishing. 

Keep in mind that Nielsen can only track books that are sold and tracked with ISBNs, and only about 1/3 of the ebooks sold in the year covered by the infographic (2015) had ISBNs. With ebooks soaking up around half of book sales overall, with that percentage leveling out but still growing (especially during quarantine), that’s a BIG chunk of ebooks that are just … an unknown quantity. Another report from the same year says that “the 2015 Smashwords sales report shows that 89% of their sales are fiction with romance taking 50% and erotica another 11%. K-Lytics indicates that romances on Kindle outsell cookbooks, for example, by a factor of 27 to 1!” Publishing numbers are still, five years later, trying to figure out how to measure and quantify and compare numbers coming from platforms that aren’t selling the written material they’re publishing, or that are publishing paid stories that are not in “book” format. Consider WordPress, storytelling podcasts, and interactive book apps like the ones created for Eric Carle’s The Hungry Caterpillar (as an easy-to-remember example). 

One also has to consider the old library sales that “if you make it, they will come”––readers have to know something exists and is attainable before they come looking for it. So if the Nielsen’s reported readership doesn’t match up to what you know your friends and fellow readers are interested in but aren’t being offered, that might be a sign that you need to help carve out a new niche. It’s not easy, but when it works––wow, does it work! Consider young adult fiction, which wasn’t a significant market share before the one-two punch of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. Now there are dedicated rooms in libraries and bookstores dedicated to that readership. You can definitely launch new trends!

So yes, the majority of romance readers are white and female. But a significant number are not, and for many authors that means that yes, there is room for your unique take on romance. 

This ran a bit long, so I’m going to answer my second question next time so as not to overwhelm you just now:

Who writes romance?

You are not alone. ♣︎

Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.
Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

Self-Publishing News: 6.11.2018 – The Interviews!

june

And now for the news!

Some highlights from this month in the world of self-publishing, specifically interviews with or articles written by self-publishing authors and experts!

If you’ve spent much time browsing our blog over the last few years, you’ll know that self-publishing isn’t just a thing for authors of novels and book-length manuscripts; there are all sorts of materials that can be self-published, from music to video games to comics, and that the indie sector in all of these industries is growing at a rapid clip. This week, Nicole Herviou of Comics Verse put together a great interview with comic creator and letterer Ryan Ferrier, who has had a hand in many major “mainstream” comic franchises (including Godzilla and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) over the years, as well as a profound influence and prolific presence in the indie and self-published corners of the comic market, most notably multiple D4VE arcs and Curb Stomp, one of our personal favorites). What’s so special about this particular interview, you might ask? First of all, Ferrier’s experiences run the whole gamut of possibilities for a comic creator, and he’s not shy about talking about any of it. He also delivers some great insights into how the world of comic publishing (and self-publishing) has changed over the years, particularly in relationship to and support of creator-owned material. This is one enlightening conversation, and we highly recommend you read the whole thing if you’re at all interested in pursuing a career in comics.

One of the things we love most about running this blog is the opportunity to identify, discover, and boost the stories of authors who are finding new and unique ways to make self-publishing a part of their lives–and those lives all look very different, making for quite the diverse field of possibilities. Meet Marie Force, another author so prolific that it would take hours simply to list and describe her more than 70 books out on the market. Force is, ahem, quite a force to be reckoned with (sorry, couldn’t resist)–and after years of publishing, she’s now partnering up with Kensington Books (distributed by Penguin Random House, one of the Big Five traditional publishing houses still scraping by) in a deal that at first glance might seem to be trite, but on a closer look is anything but.

What do we mean by that? Well, there’s a common misconception that success in self-publishing–success of the kind that Force has achieved–is followed by an immediate transition to traditional publishing. Force has added Kensington to her arsenal, that’s all. In this Publisher’s Weekly press release, the traditional publishing house notes that Force “continues to see the advantages to both indie and traditional publishing models,” and that their role is to get “behind her on some previously published and forthcoming original novels,” not to replace her indie and self-published presence.* As the release notes, Force is a champion of the “personal touch,” and that extends to honoring all of her readers. As we mentioned earlier, there are as many ways to be an author as there are authors in the world.

 

*NOTE: Marie reached out to us on Twitter to correct a few errors in our original post. She writes: “[Q]uick point of clarification: I’ve been traditionally published, without interruption, since 2008. I’ve been with Harlequin since 2010 for the Fatal series. I’m not a self-pubbed author suddenly discovering trad publishing.” Many thanks to her for keeping us honest and right in the facts.


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As a self-publishing author, you may find it helpful to stay up-to-date on the trends and news related to the self-publishing industry.This will help you make informed decisions before, during and after the self-publishing process, which will lead to a greater self-publishing experience. To help you stay current on self-publishing topics, simply visit our blog every Monday to find out the hottest news. If you have other big news to share, please comment below.

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Friday Conversations With A Self-Publishing Writer 02/13/15

redeeming loveLOVE CAN BE MESSY

Someone once told me that “being in love…is like marching through knee-deep mud.”  “Wow!” I answered (with compassion), “that’s a great piece of dialogue for a Romance novel!”  As you might imagine, my friend rolled his eyes at me and shook his head.  However, he didn’t “march away” mad.  Instead, we spent the next couple of hours weeding through his reactions to his girlfriend’s actions in an attempt to clearly understand what was happening.  I won’t delve into that specific situation here; however, I will say that my opening statement, “Love can be messy” is not an understatement.

There is also a parallel statement that must be recognized when writing love storiesLIFE CAN BE MESSY.  In dramatic fashion, my friend’s parting words that day were, “I don’t know if I can live without her.”  Oh, that’s cliché you say?  Maybe.  However, it is also the way many people feel when experiencing a messy relationship.  In steps, the Romance Writer who develops characters, scenes/settings, plots/actions demonstrating how “real” (fictional) people can not only survive rocky relationships, they can become stronger and mentally/emotionally healthier.

I was introduced to one of my favorite Romance and Historical Fiction authors Francine Rivers when a student of mine gave me a copy of REDEEMING LOVE.  It is set in the California Gold Rush days.  The heroine, Angel, becomes a woman in the midst of “life’s” messiest of circumstances—sold into prostitution at the age of eight.  The cruelty of men (basically all the men) in her life is heart-wrenching. Then Michael comes into the story and falls in love with Angel.  This author moves readers through realistic bitter/sweet, happy/sad, emotions that speak the truth of how sincere, honest, real love conquers all ills.

I’ve included an illustration of this book to point out the statement highlighted in the beige inset: ONE MILLION COPIES SOLD!  And, it’s still selling!  What are some of her creative writing secrets?  Here are a few of the best interview excerpts I’ve found.

  • Research! Research! Research! Details about time periods and events are crucial.
  • It rarely works to develop a fictional character using all the specifics about a “real” person. Trying to bend actions/events around them will keep you from developing enough drama and conflict to make the story interesting to readers.
  • Imagination NOT “speculation” shapes and develops characters and events. Some readers think it strange to say that fiction characters take on a life of their own. But they do—in our imaginations. When their stories begin to move in unexpected ways, that’s when writing becomes really exciting!
  • Don’t be afraid to TELL the TRUTH. Bad things happen. Ugly things. Sad and malicious things. There is also the TRUTH that good people make a difference. Their concepts of love, Faith, values, and doing what is right because it is right will make a difference in the plot, too.

SO…I leave you today with these encouragements.  This author is an excellent example of what you can do, too.  If you’re not already deep into typing your novel, BEGIN TODAY!

Royalene ABOUT ROYALENE DOYLE: Royalene Doyle is a Ghostwriter with Outskirts Press, bringing more than 35 years of writing experience to authors who need “just a little assistance” with completing their writing projects. She has worked with both experienced and fledgling writers helping complete projects in multiple genres. When a writer brings the passion they have for their work and combines it with Royalene’s passion to see the finished project in print, books are published and the writer’s legacy is passed forward.

Friday Conversations With A Self-Publishing Writer 02/06/15

LOVE IS IN THE AIR

Last week I wrote about creating a personal Motivation Diary.  One primary purpose for a writer to do this is to keep grounded and focused on the real reason for writing what we write.  In the process, many of us discover that our resolve centers on the desire to pass forward the best of who we are to those we love.

Some genres naturally lend themselves to writing for those we care about.  Children’s books, from toddler to young adult, are mostly written to encourage and inspire young minds as they grow.  Nature books, magazines and blogs are written to share the beauty that surrounds us and draw others into “loving” nature.  Comedy, in stage and screenplays, novels and short stories, allows both writer and reader to see the humor in “love relationships” that have their ups and downs and sideways moments.  The epic Family Sagas create a timeline that demonstrates how “love conquers many things.” However, the mainstay of sharing concepts of love is still the Romance novel, which includes Historical Fiction, Western/Pioneer Fiction, Science Fiction/Fantasy Romance and Inspirational Romance.

The successful Romance writers I know develop the backbone of their plot on true stories—actually a collection of true stories that they can “clip” from depending on what is needed in their current “love scenario.”  The list below is what they look for in research material.

  • Hero/Protagonist (male) types who 1) holds women in high esteem/respect;” 2) doesn’t hesitate to chase the purse thief; 3) almost always speaks with a positive attitude; 4) isn’t afraid to take a risk in relationships and looking for a lifetime commitment.
  • Hero/Protagonist (female) types who share the same characteristic as those listed above with the additional elements of: 1) needs evidence that her hero is actually who he presents himself to be; 2) speaks her mind freely; 3) has developed a strong set of values that she plans to stick to and/or develop further in her FOREVER relationship and in her children.
  • Main Antagonist (male) types who 1) disrespect women; 2) enjoy “using” a woman’s position or intelligence for their own benefit; 3) always points out the impossibility of a situation; 4) has a string of broken relationships, always blaming the woman for the breakup.
  • Main Antagonist (female) types who again demonstrate many of the above antagonist characteristics with the additional elements of: 1) greater levels of deception to obtain selfish goals; 2) speaks before thinking—often causing harm to others; 3) demonstrates the definitions of “ego” and selfishness.

SO HOW (you ask) do the successful Romance writers blend such opposite characters into novels that fly off the bookstore shelves?  They AIM for happy endings—or if not totally happy then realistically happy endings.  Romance Readers—more than in any other genre—picture themselves IN the scenarios they read about.  No one wants to find themselves in hopeless and/or helpless circumstances.  In fact, they want to learn how to GET OUT of those kinds of situations.  They pick up a Romance Novel and see the hero/heroine conquer “life” (all the messy stuff) and build healthy relationships—all based on LOVE.

Yes, love is a great motivator for both readers and writers.  It is also the stimulus that moves writers to their computers, completes the novels and gets those novels PUBLISHED!

Royalene ABOUT ROYALENE DOYLE: Royalene Doyle is a Ghostwriter with Outskirts Press, bringing more than 35 years of writing experience to authors who need “just a little assistance” with completing their writing projects. She has worked with both experienced and fledgling writers helping complete projects in multiple genres. When a writer brings the passion they have for their work and combines it with Royalene’s passion to see the finished project in print, books are published and the writer’s legacy is passed forward.